All Tyrese Maxey needed Saturday night against the Washington Wizards was a little time to get going.
Entering the fourth quarter, his Philadelphia 76ers teammates had afforded him that luxury, providing a narrow lead after his two-point third quarter. They also had given him space to operate.
And there, with less than two minutes left and Maxey stalking on the right wing, the Wizards provided a lane. An absence of on-ball pressure and late help-side defense let Maxey weave forward, then back, then forward again as he zipped to the hoop. With his final basket in a 15-point fourth quarter — a driving layup for an eight-point lead on a night when it seemed every point of his came with his body splayed out stomach-down on the Capital One Arena court — he put Washington away.
On a night when Washington’s defense flopped, then fluttered, the Wizards — stop us if you’ve heard this before — faltered in the closing minutes against the 76ers’ Maxey and Ricky Council IV as they fell, 119-113, for their sixth straight loss.
Philadelphia shot 37 for 68 in the paint for 74 points to Washington’s 54.
“They were driving by us, and it built their confidence. And by the time we kind of snapped into gear and changed our attitude, it was a little too late,” the Wizards’ Corey Kispert said.
Each team had lost eight of its previous 10 games and was on the second game of a back-to-back, but the 76ers (31-21) looked plenty spry as zippy drives to the basket by Maxey and Kelly Oubre Jr. built a double-digit lead early in the second quarter. Washington (9-43) chipped away, pulling within three at halftime as Tyus Jones’s fifth first-half three-pointer capped an 8-0 run in the final 72 seconds of the quarter.
The close score in part was a byproduct of circumstance; reigning MVP Joel Embiid has been out of Philadelphia’s lineup since Jan. 30 with a lateral meniscus injury in his left knee. He bludgeoned the Wizards for 34, 48 and 50 points earlier this season.
The Wizards kept within reasonable distance early in the second half, bouncing back from the wrong side of a 13-3 run midway through the third quarter with a 14-5 run in the fourth that cut their deficit to two.
Maxey (28 points, nine rebounds, seven assists) paced Philadelphia as one of six players in double figures. Buddy Hield, the 76ers’ marquee deadline addition, had 23 points. Council added 19 points and 10 rebounds off the bench.
Jones led Washington with 25 points and nine assists. Deni Avdija and Kyle Kuzma (21 points each) also contributed for the Wizards. Still, Washington again failed to meet interim coach Brian Keefe’s call for improved defense. He also said he’ll be more likely to play a traditional big if the Wizards struggle with defensive rebounding late in the game, but he stuck with Kuzma and Avdija in the frontcourt because they were chiefly responsible for the late push.
“We have to be a defensive organization, a defensive culture,” Keefe said before the game. “I think we’re making growth in that. We’re not there yet. It’s not fully established.”
Washington remains the only team in the NBA without a win on the second night of a back-to-back this season (0-9). The loss also clinched the franchise’s worst pre-all-star-break record since it moved to Washington in 1973.
If Richaun Holmes was at all apprehensive about his new situation, the way a player might be when asked to uproot his life, he did a fantastic job concealing it in the hour before Washington’s loss.
The Wizards’ newest addition — who didn’t play Saturday but joined the team for the first time after being acquired Thursday with a first-round draft pick from the Dallas Mavericks for Daniel Gafford — was all smiles as he paced around the arena. He laughed and joked with a staffer on his walk to the locker room, fist-bumping just about every coach and security guard in his vicinity along the way.
About 15 minutes later, he reclined in a folding chair at his new locker, relaxed as all get out. Without deviating from a broad smile, he talked about opportunity — the chance to do the dirty work for the Wizards and provide physicality on the interior and to reunite with Marvin Bagley III after their time together in Sacramento — and said before the trade Washington was one of his favorite cities to visit and featured a roster that impressed him offensively.
And, his smile growing for the final time, he mentioned the chance to be a leader.
“I mean, I think that’s what they want from me,” the 30-year-old said. “I’m not used to being one of the oldest guys in the locker room, but that’s something I want to bring and something I want to do.”
His one caveat about the trade? His 8-year-old son is still attending school in Dallas.
“Look forward to getting him out here as well,” Holmes said.